domingo, 24 de octubre de 2010

Carta de un profesor

Esta semana sucedio algo en una de mis clases: mucha gente no dejaba de quejarse en una clase de ingenieria sobre tener que saber ciertos procesos bioquimicos que son importantes. Por este motivo, el profesor escribo este mensaje en un correo para todos los alumnos.

Dear Students,

Below, I am sending along some further comments about the course that you might find helpful. These comments arise from some conversations and correspondence with certain student and concern issues of how much I expect you to learn about biochemistry in a course on biochemical engineering. A common observation from some students is that it should be sufficient to learn/know only general principles because details can always be looked up in a handbook. I have to disagree with those ideas.

I will also try to be more specific in class about what I consider important. On the other hand, I do expect students also to use their street smarts to conceive a ranking of importance. Realize that the authors of the textbook considered the chemistry and microbiology they included to be important; they could always have referred the reader to other books instead of including the material that they did. Take a look at a good biochem or microbiology text; they usually are much larger and cover far more that the bare essentials in your textbook. Yes, that's right; the bare essentials. In your future career it is likely that this essential fundamental material will be groundwork for future learning.

I think the importance of proteins, sugars and nucleic acids should be evident; thus the building blocks of these compounds: sugars, amino acids and bases and the reactions they undergo. Metabolic pathways are extremely important; thus students should have an INTIMATE knowledge of at least the molecules and reactions of the two most important: EMP and TCA. Consider the space in the textbook devoted to EMP and TCA. Engineers should appreciate the importance of energy; in order to understand the broad principles of metabolism, a thorough knowledge of the energy-producing, energy consuming and growth-related pathways is essential.

I am reminded of a story about the last words on the recovered flight recorder: "Can't find the switches to restart the stalled engines; looking in the handbook, I know the general principles." I can imagine similar words from the managing engineer on the drilling platform that blew up in the gulf. When you visit a physician for a diagnosis, are you impressed when he first has to look up your symptoms in a handbook (Merck Manual) and then consult another handbook (PDR) to decide what med to prescribe? And what if he also has to to look up all or many of the words in a medical dictionary? Or would you feel more comfortable with a person who seldom needs to consult handbooks to handle a routine case? How many times have you seen re-enactments of courtroom trials in which lawyers and judges are routinely thumbing through books of rules and laws to find the information they need to make their arguments in court? Would you choose such a lawyer to represent you in an important legal matter? Or would you feel better served by a person so familiar with the law that she doesn't need to pore over legal tomes for every issue that arises. Recall also that an employer can hire a clerk at much less than an engineer's salary to look up things in a handbook.

Please reread the Rules and Schedule paper that was distributed to class early in semester. For each class there are specific assignments for reading and STUDY in preparation for each class.

Regarding testing, I will continue to give you challenging questions. If everyone scored an A, it would hardly be a significant test; good golf courses do not contain all par 3 holes and good baseball stadiums are not designed with very short outfields. If grading results compute to an average less than, say, about 70-80, then I would consider adding the same adjustment to every grade in order to bring the average into that range. I would hope we would finish up with a distribution of grades that contains reasonable numbers of As, Bs, Cs, and Ds, and I hope no Fs. However, it would be unfair for me to give gift grades to students who do not do the assignments and absent themselves from tests without good and serious reasons. Please re-read the Rules regarding such absences.

I wish all of you good luck and much success in your studies.

Lo que sucede con mucha gente me parece inaceptable. No es posible que ya estando en septimo semestre existan quejas que yo pocas veces vi en prepa o inclusive en secundaria. Cosas como estas me parecen extrañas, pero desafortunadamente en mi carrera se ha acostumbrado a la gente a que haga las cosas por la via facil y no saben ser disciplinados o entender que todo lo que se aprende en la escuela es relevante de una manera o de otra en el futuro. Yo tambien me he disgustado de algunas cosas en clases, pero no he llegado al nivel de quejarme con el profesor diciendo que la clase es complicada.
La reaccion del grupo fue interesante: hubo gente que comprendio el mensaje y que quiere cambiar, pero tambien hay otros que, con arrogancia, siguen justificando su manera de ser y que creen que el mensaje es absurdo. Me gustaria saber que tiene que decir cuando haya clase y si las personas que han tomado esto a mal son capaces de decirle lo que piensan en su cara.

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